Saturday, June 10, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Ostapenko Wins 1st Major By Out(b)lasting Halep

Jelena Ostapenko shocked the world  (and yours truly) by defeating Simona Halep to win her very first WTA Tour title at Roland Garros. Amazingly, she becomes the first player on either tour since Guga Kuerten did the same thing on June 10, 1997 which was the day Ostapenko was born! I was incorrect when I said that the 25-year-old Halep would be the mentally tougher player, because despite leading 6-4 3-0 and having three break opportunities for a 4-0 double break lead, the Romanian player threw her racquet to the ground when she squandered these chances, giving hope to her 20-year-old opponent. Ostapenko held serve and resumed going for broke on her groundstrokes and this time the balls hit the lines and Halep was soon on even terms in the second set and eventually down a break. Halep then decided to abandon her game plan of refusing to hit errors and started going for more, but instead she started to make more errors (and didn't really hit very many more winners). The end result was that Ostapenko won the 2nd set 6-4.

Halep did very to hold serve in the very first game of the 3rd set, despite facing two break points and used this momentum to go up 3-1 in the deciding set. But, similar to Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal in this year's Australian Open men's final, Ostapenko negated the score by holding her own serve and creating relentless pressure in her service return games and ended up winning the last 5 games to win the match 4-6 6-4 6-3. The pivotal point was at 3-all in the 3rd set with Halep serving and facing breakpoint when Ostapenko hit a backhand down the line that was going a foot wide but hit the net and bounced high and onto Halep's side of the net for a winner to earn the break. That was basically the coup de grace because then Ostapenko was able to hold serve to go up 5-3 and basically picked on Halep's weak serve return in the final game, ending with a down-the-line backhand service return winners on match point.

With the win Ostapenko will rise from #47 to #12 in the world. She is a former Junior Wimbledon champion and should be expected to have even better results on faster surfaces like grass and hard courts. Halep rises to #2 in the rankings and Angelique Kerber who lost on the very first day of play of Roland Garros 2017 will remain #1 the day after it.

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